Breaking Self-Imposed Chains that Hinder Your Leadership and Ministry

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See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1 ESV)

Last week I wrote about three subconscious behavior patterns that can hamstring your leadership and ministry: perfectionism, performance-based self-esteem and people pleasing. Here’s the story of Pastor Bob and a few lesson that we can learn from him. In Bob’s case, he struggles with performance-based self-esteem.


Pastor Bob, exhausted, sat in his office at 6:30 pm on another Monday evening. Once again, he had worked late on a day he had promised Angie he would take off. Begrudgingly, he acknowledged to himself what his wife Angie had told him on several occasions: he’d become somewhat of a workaholic.

He knew he needed to rest and more time for family but he was so focused on undone projects and measures of what he considered success or failure that he failed to pry himself away. 

Uncharacteristically introspective, Bob considered why he had done this again and where this whole pattern originated. He realized that he’d been driven to perform since he was in high school. His older brother, Jack, excelled in both sports and grades. Bob, no athlete, didn’t set the classroom on fire either. His father seemed to praise Jack often but never Bob.

Bob realized that somewhere along the line he decided to work harder than anyone else, to prove to his father and to himself that he was smart and talented. Though his father had passed on, he still felt that need to prove himself.

At another level, Bob knew that this inner drive even affected his relationship with God. He preached grace to others but struggled to apply it to himself. 


I have five specific suggestions for breaking the kind of subconscious chains holding Bob back. (Please note that I am assuming you are already praying about these matters!)

First, catch yourself at the time of a specific undesired behavior. Try to notice when you find yourself engaging in a specific incident of people pleasing, for example.

Second, analyze that specific experience. You may already be doing this in your journaling but if not, move toward writing about specific events that occurred to you that day or that week.

Third, look for roots in childhood. I have listened for thousands of hours to hundreds of clients. My observation: many of our human foibles in adulthood reflect some belief we adopted in childhood. I’ve counseled people who found themselves continually striving for approval, then eventually came to me and said, “I realize the way I got attention in my youth was trying to be ‘the good child’”.

The three patterns listed above (perfectionism, people pleasing, basing self-esteem on performance) usually reflect our human search to feel loved. They are subconscious strategies for obtaining deep psychological needs: acceptance, worth, approval.

Fourth, consider how you may be transferring your underlying belief into your relationship with God. If you somehow decided as a child that you needed to be “the good child” in order for your parents to love you, do you also believe the same about getting acceptance from your Heavenly Father? Of course, that’s just one example.

Fifth, know that the main person most people struggle to gain acceptance from is the one in mirror. We’re good at telling others about God’s grace but that does not mean we apply it to ourselves!

Finally, from the practical stand-point, here’s one more really important practice. My husband read this article and asked me, “Once I gain insight into the roots of my behavior, what do I do with it?” Here’s the answer.

Reframe your false belief into one that is more accurate and reflects a more realistic point of view. Here’s an example:

“Maybe it’s not that I was ‘bad’ as a child but that my mother was very critical. I wasn’t perfect but I was just being a normal kid.”

In Bob’s case, perhaps he may reframe in this way: “Of course Dad praised Jack. Jack excelled in many ways. But in retrospect, Dad showed a lot of love to me, too.”

Can you feel the big sigh of relief that a more healthy reframe could bring to a heart burdened with a lifetime of trying to be perfect (or to perform or to please)? Do you see that embracing that new thought over time could help a person take a different approach to their life?

You basic personality may never change but you can break self-imposed beliefs that hinder your life, leadership and ministry.

Dear friends, we are little children nestled in the lap of our loving Heavenly Father. He lavishes delight and acceptance upon us regardless of whether we do our tasks perfectly, build the world’s biggest church, or whether somewhere along the line we have to say “no” to someone asking us to take on one more responsibility.

Embrace God’s beautiful grace! He loves you just as you are.

I hope this helps you along your journey.

Dr. JeannieComment